Jenna Prince-Bytewood battles to bring the “King Woman” to the big screen

Jenna Prince-Bytewood battles to bring the “King Woman” to the big screen

Stunning and action-packed historical epic woman king It is one of the best films of 2022.

Based on a true story, director Gina Prince-Bythwood sheds light on Agojie. They were the all-female warrior unit that protected the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa during the 17th and 19th centuries. With Viola Davis in the lead role and a supporting cast that includes Thoso Mbedo, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atem and John Boyega, the incredible vision serves up strong performance after strong performance.

I met Prince-Bythwood to discuss bringing her work over the finish line, battles to make it happen, and how her first meeting with the film’s hero in several years affected the final film.

Simon Thompson: I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for a while, but it far exceeded my expectations. Is this a reaction from a few people?

Jenna Prince-Bythwood: yes. It was a very nice response. Honestly, I think it started with the studio not realizing the enormity of this movie, the epic nature of it, not only in scope but also in emotion. We felt it in place, but you never know until you start putting it together, but the reaction has been absolutely amazing.

Thompson: This is a movie that sells for the great story and action scenes, but it’s not a movie that has action and scenery at the expense of anything and everything else. Was it difficult to get people behind it?

Prince-Bethwood: There is this temptation, given what is on the market. When I came to this, I said from the start that this is a historical epic action drama, and we will never forget the dramatic part of it. For me, the quiet moments, the emotional moments, they have to be as big, epic, and important as the set pieces, and I never back down from that.

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Thompson: The detail to me in this is absolutely incredible, from the costumes to the hairstyles to how the cast is lit and shot. This seems to matter across the board, from top to bottom.

Prince-Bethwood: It was so important because we tell a true story and build the world. Authenticity was the word you used with everyone involved in every craft you talked about. It all started with Akin McKenzie, our production designer. It came early, and we did our deepest research, finding the sources that were accurate about this time and place, kingdom, and women. Some were very offensive in the way they wrote because of the lens they were looking at. Having said that, we found these wonderful magazines written by these two men who went to the kingdom and their description of the palace, the costume, the people and the environment, and that’s what I wanted to show on screen. It kind of goes against people’s perception of Africa. Of course, Africa is a continent with many different countries, but certainly this kingdom and what it was, they say the talent is in the details, and we wanted to be honest.

Thomson: A lot of details.

Prince-Bethwood: We wanted to correct the inscriptions on the walls of the palace, what was on the doors; That’s the fun part of connecting the dots, whether it’s the drawings we found or what they were wearing. All weapons are original, and they were greasing their skin with palm oil so that people could not control. You should be able to fight, but they just have these little things, these shorts, under them. They’re fighters, so they can’t run around in fancy skirts. These details were vital to me and the representatives and department heads who took credibility very seriously.

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Thompson: When did you finish the movie? I understand it was kind of a race to get him ready for the Toronto Film Festival. At what point did you wish, “I have to leave this alone now”?

Prince-Bethwood: (laughs) I think it technically closed about three weeks ago, but I actually finished the movie on the Friday before the festival. The visual effects were still coming late, and then I was able to see them in IMAX on Friday, and that was the case.

Thompson: Who saw that with you? Was it a small audience invited?

Prince-Bethwood: I didn’t want the cast to see it until it was completely finished. It’s something I have. As much as people say, “Oh, I can watch it, and it’s not over,” I don’t like it. This is the movie, so they all watched it that week. That was amazing, but it was the scariest moment, for sure, for me. I know the great work they did and the confidence they had in the vision, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, but they all loved it. By checking out IMAX, it was just me, our DP Polly Morgan, and editor Terilyn Shropshire. It was an incredible experience.

Thompson: Even with old guardThis is the biggest movie I’ve made. What can you tell me about the fear of doing this? Did it hit you the night before you started shooting, how big is that exactly?

Prince-Bethwood: Honestly, you’ve shocked me before. When you go to movies like this, whether it is old guard or woman kingYou have to walk into that room with arrogance and confidence and make them believe that they can trust you with millions of dollars. You go there, and you talk, and you say all the right things; Clearly everyone, including me, believed it. I got the party in the room, then had to go to my car. I sat in my car, and it was like, “Damn, now I should actually show up.” This is where the fear starts, but that fear is good because it drives me and pushes me into the work I need to prove that whatever I said in that room I can get done. The enormity of such films can become overwhelming at times because there are so many moving parts and so much to do. I had a conversation with Rian Johnson, and I never forgot it because I went and visited him when he was doing it last serious. I asked him: How can you not be overwhelmed? star Wars? He said it doesn’t matter how much money you have or all the games you have; You have to tell a good story first. Keeping that in my head made me totally grounded as he started getting a little older.

Thompson: In any movie, you have to fight many battles. What battles did you have to fight with this? I think one of the main ideas was the old idea that movies with strong female actors, and a mostly black cast, don’t make money.

Prince-Bethwood: It started with exactly what I said, getting people to see the value in this story, in the cast, in these characters, and it’s hard to fight and prove that people who look like they have value. But, frankly, this has been the case throughout my career. Once that hurdle was crossed, we got the financing, and Sony believed in the vision; Still fighting. What is this movie? What will attract the audience? A full-fledged action movie, on paper, would appeal to more people, but to me, that would never be the case. Shooting during the Omicron was tough and scary because we were good, and then we weren’t. Hit it quickly. There was an absolute fear of whether or not we’d be back but we’re also coming back in the right way to keep our team safe. It changed how I had to shoot because all of a sudden I didn’t have 400 background actors in the scene. It wasn’t safe. I had to cut that in half and be more creative with my camera work. I had actors do all their fighting action, all their stunts, head on and spitting and grappling and sweating; You cannot wear masks in this case. How do we keep it safe? We bubbled everyone and tested daily, but that kind of thing was tough given our schedule. This was a 63-day photo session. Fighting the plane for which it was launched old guard Two people were in the tube, five days of shooting. The great battle in woman king It took 11 days and now I’m doing an epic battle with hundreds of actors in the background and all these set vignettes. That was scary. I was like, “How are we going to do that?” You discover it and do it.

Thompson: People have compared this to the gladiatorAnd the The last of the MohicansAnd the brave heart. It also felt like some ’70s movies with strong black women front and center, like Foxy Brown. The setting and context are obviously very different, but were those effects at all?

Prince-Bethwood: I’ve never heard or thought of that before, but this is actually unbelievable. I started with the movies I love: brave heartAnd the the gladiatorAnd those historical epics I wanted to see myself in.

Thompson: The relationship between Nanica Viola Davis and Nawi Thoso Mbedu, who are both great at this, reminded me of something I read about the first time I met Viola many years ago. The story goes that she was a little hard on you because she thought you didn’t like her. Did that first meeting affect the relationship between these two people in this movie?

Prince-Bethwood: (laughs) This makes me laugh. Yes, that relationship between Nanisca and Nawi, that head-butting, trying to settle down and interact with each other was great conversation, definitely built on the truth and trying to nurture that to make it look real when we show it. on the screen.

woman king Shows in theaters on Friday, September 16, 2022.

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